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SLO County health officer asks people to stick to 'social bubble' to slow virus spread

Posted at 10:40 AM, Sep 01, 2020

San Luis Obispo County health officer Dr. Penny Borenstein gave the County Board of Supervisors and residents an update on coronavirus in the area Tuesday morning.

As of Monday afternoon, SLO County was nearing 3,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The total increased by nearly 100 over the weekend.

Dr. Borenstein said the increase is consistent with the ongoing trend of 30+ new cases per day.

She told the supervisors there would need to be fewer than 20 new cases per day over an extended period before SLO County would be approved to lift more restrictions.

Dr. Borenstein also addressed the reduction in the COVID-19 death toll in SLO County which was revised to 20 Monday afternoon. She clarified that if someone died in a car crash and happened to have COVID-19, that person's death could not be counted in the coronavirus death toll. However, if someone with cancer contracted COVID-19 and died shortly thereafter, their death certificate would list COVID-19 as a contributing factor to death.

The CDC recently released a statistic showing only six percent of COVID-19 deaths were caused by the virus alone. The information has been widely circulated online with some people accusing the media of reporting false and inflated death tolls.

Dr. Borenstein called it a "mischaracterization of data" and said the remaining 94 percent are patients who died of coronavirus had at least one comorbidity or underlying health condition that may have been a contributing factor to their death.

She reiterated that SLO County residents must continue to wear masks in public, maintain distance, stay home when sick, sanitize and wash hands in order to drive community transmission rates down.

Dr. Borenstein told the board the majority of new cases stem from situations where people have gathered together.

"If you are going to socialize, do it in very modest ways," Borenstein said.

She said people should stick to a "social bubble" for three weeks, selecting one to two friends that agree not to socialize with anyone else during that time to help ensure everyone stays well. Borenstein said these careful socializing practices will be crucial to reopening schools and businesses.

Dr. Borenstein also talked about the new tier system in California. SLO County is currently in the purple tier meaning the highest level of restrictions is in place. Hypothetically speaking, she said even if the county were to move into the red tier tomorrow, the soonest businesses could reopen would be Sept. 22 and the earliest schools could reopen would be Oct. 6.

Supervisor John Peschong asked Dr. Borenstein about the potential for gyms and fitness centers to resume indoor operation. She said the restrictions must stay in place currently due to the high likelihood of transmission in those settings. Health officials say when San Luis Obispo County moves into the red tier, the max capacity for indoor fitness operations would be 10 percent. Once in the orange tier, it would move to 25 percent and then 50 percent in the yellow tier.

*This article has been edited to correctly reflect Dr. Borenstein's statement that a "social bubble" should include one to two friends versus two to three friends as originally reported. It also corrects that Supervisor John Peschong asked Dr. Borenstein the question regarding gyms rather than Supervisor Gibson.
In addition, the article includes corrected information issued by the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department regarding the reopening of fitness centers.